Obama Pessimistic That Netanyahu, Abbas Can Push for Peace

U.S. president doesn't think 'a big overarching deal' is possible in the next year, he tells Al-Arabiya.

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Obama watches Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas as they shake hands at a trilateral meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Sept. 25, 2009.
Obama watches Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas as they shake hands at a trilateral meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Sept. 25, 2009.Credit: Bloomberg

U.S. President Barack Obama sounded pessimistic Friday on the chances for reviving the peace process in light of the political considerations of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“And what I think at this point, realistically, we can do is to try to rebuild trust — not through a big overarching deal, which I don’t think is probably possible in the next year,” Obama said in an interview with Al-Arabiya.

The lack of a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was due to the political needs of the two leaders, he told Al-Arabiya.

“The politics of fear has been stronger than the politics of hope over recent years — partly because of the chaotic situation in the region overall. And it’s going to take some time to rebuild it,” Obama said.

He said an example of trust-building measures would be the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip “if we can start building some trust around, for example, relieving the humanitarian suffering inside of Gaza and helping the ordinary people in Gaza to recover from the devastation that happened last year.”

Also, more could be done to improve the West Bank’s economy and create job opportunities for the Palestinians, Obama said. “If we can slowly rebuild that kind of trust, then I continue to believe that the logic of a two-state solution will reassert itself,” he said.

Obama’s remarks do not reveal a new policy on the peace process, but simply reflect the situation. The Americans are still working on their reassessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Obama declared following Netanyahu’s speech against the two-state solution during the recent election campaign.

Senior U.S. officials said no decisions had been made on a new policy for the peace process. They said the White House was waiting to see how the new Israeli government would operate, and wanted to see Netanyahu push policies and take action showing that he still supported a two-state solution.

Despite Obama’s statement that no breakthrough could be expected in the peace process in the coming year, sources in Jerusalem and Washington believe that within a few months a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will once again be placed before the UN Security Council.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is moving the Security Council resolution forward, has agreed to wait until a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran is reached on June 30. Fabius is expected to try to bring a resolution to a vote at the UN General Assembly in New York in late September.

Senior U.S. officials said over the weekend that Obama had still not decided whether to veto such a resolution, as Israel demands. The president’s decision will depend on the wording of the resolution, the officials said.

Obama’s interview with Al-Arabiya comes ahead of visits to Israel by a number of foreign ministers to scrutinize the new government’s policy on the Palestinians.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende is to arrive on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Wednesday and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier next week. Each will focus on the freeze in the peace process.

Mogherini will meet with both Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Ramallah. This is her second visit to Jerusalem, and she has put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict high on her agenda. She has also appointed the Italian diplomat Fernando Gentilini as the EU’s special envoy on the peace process; he is expected to join her in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Mogherini had hoped to play a greater role in efforts to renew talks between the sides, but the outcome of Israel’s election and the makeup of the new government have made her plans harder to implement.

Her visit to the region also comes amid increasing pressure by many EU countries, irked by the break in the peace talks, to move ahead with sanctions against Israel such as the marking of products made in the settlements.

Senior EU diplomats and Israeli officials say that despite the makeup of the new government, Mogherini will try to figure out where Netanyahu and Abbas stand on renewing peace talks and how progress can be made even in the absence of talks.

Mogherini is expected to seek clarifications from Netanyahu on his commitment to the two-state solution following his comments against the establishment of a Palestinian state during the election campaign.

During her visit, she is also expected to address concerns about renewed fighting in the coming months, against the backdrop of the stalemate in rebuilding Gaza.

European diplomats say they are very worried because Abbas is making no efforts to reach understandings with Hamas that would let reconstruction proceed.

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